The history of Mortal Kombat

The second MK arrived in 1993, just about a year after the original. As you’d expect, the character roster increased, the graphics and animation were improved, the story was ramped up and, most importantly, the blood and gore were taken to a new level.

Each fighter now had two fatalities to choose from, as well as three different Pit-like stages to hurl your opponent into. With more moves and more playable characters came deeper battles and slightly more robust combo opportunities than the original. To this day, this is arguably the best MK game to date when it comes to high-level play, a scene usually dominated by Street Fighter (and later Tekken, BlazBlue etc).

Above: MKII directly continued the loose story from the first game, creating an ongoing canon that would help power movies, cartoons and sorts of cash-in goodies 

Above: The roster grew from 7 to 12, including the previously unplayable Reptile and Shang Tsung, as well as palette-swapped ladies Kitana and Mileena 

Above: Lovely new versus screens showed off new costumes for the digitized actors 

Above: MKII was the first game to print “FATALITY” in bloody letters; the first game merely listed the word amongst other post-match details 

Above: MKII also introduced Babalities and Friendships as alternate finishing moves. Fun asides, but they set a precedent the series would eventually take too far 

When MKII arrived on consoles in October 1994, the Nintendo version remained faithful to the arcade original, including every fatality and drop of blood that made the game a hit. However, the SNES version arrived mere weeks before the ESRB ratings finally appeared on games, so we got a 17-only warning on the box. It’s the only SNES game to feature this image.

Above: Neither Sega’s rating system nor ESRB. Merely a “May not be appropriate for players under 17” statement 

Above: The commercial was suitably epic. See, MK was a big damn deal!

The multi-fatality options that began here reappear in this year’s game, as does the entire cast. Near as we can tell, the new game doesn’t contain any Babality silliness, so it’s leaning more towards outlandish violence than dark humor. As far as gameplay enhancements go, MKII did offer a smoother, more playable experience than the first game, but it didn’t really introduce any new mechanics. That honor goes to the next game in the list…

Jumping ahead to 1995 we see Mortal Kombat 3, which arrived just in time for the first film. Expectations were astronomically high, as not only was MKII a big hit, but the fighting scene in general was now full of numerous high-quality options. Could MK still compete after taking a year off? Could they improve on II as much as it improved on MK1?

Our opinion lies somewhere in the middle; MK3 added new gameplay features like the dial-a-combo system (every character had pre-set combos you could pull off by pushing buttons in a certain order) and the Run button designed to make combat more aggressive, but both of these additions made MK3 feel and play almost completely different from MKII. On one hand, it’s admirable that Midway would mix things up so thoroughly; on the other, most of us kinda just wanted a freshened up MKII.

Above: The Ultimate MK3 roster, which added cyber ninjas, a lady-Goro and the pitiful Stryker 

Above: Sheeva and Sektor square off on the new Vs screen. New “Kombat Kode” symbols appear on the bottom; mashing buttons would shift the symbols around and occasionally combine to produce a game-altering effect 

Above: Oddly, MK3 did not contain Scorpion. Shortly thereafter, UMK3 brought him back. Probably shouldn’t leave out your most popular characters, Midway! 

Above: MK3 took the silliness too far at times, ruining the otherwise dead-serious storyline. Here Liu Kang drops the MK1 arcade unit on Scorpion. Funny, we guess? 

In just three years Mortal Kombat had gone from concept to arcade mainstay. However, in that same time, MK had to keep evolving its gameplay and story while Capcom was content to re-release tweaked versions of SFII. This fact alone strongly proves SFII’s staying power compared to any MK; one needed minor touch ups to survive for five years, while the other had to change things up every single time. Then again, the MK team pushed the boundaries and played with the format, whereas SF stuck to its guns, pushing off Street Fighter III for so long that the mass audience loss interest. This coincided with consoles that could produce arcade-quality games for a fraction of the price, ultimately leading to the general decline of arcades. Sad times for sure.

But for those few years, MK captured the hearts and minds of a generation and became one of the best-selling, most popular series of all time. And it’s these three titles that this years’ MK reboot pulls from so thoroughly. Every character in the new game (save Quan Chi) is from the original trilogy, and the story is actually a thorough retelling of the first three games. In other words, developer NetherRealm is fully banking on nostalgia and familiarity of these three to drive interest in the new game. Not a bad tactic at all, as Street Fighter IV clearly preyed on our memories of SFII to lure us back in. Worked then, probably will work now.

We’ll have a full review of the MK next week. Until then, why not watch this video, which should help explain why the new game pays no attention to Mortal Kombat 4…

Apr 13, 2011

The Top 7… Most absurd Mortal Kombat offshoots
MK’s gone in some strange directions once finishing the fight


Street Fighter Week: The evolution of Ken and Ryu
Two of gaming's most iconic fighters are dissected, game by game


Marvel vs Capcom: a history of the Vs fighting series
VIDEO: Seth Killian walks us through 16 years of fighting history




  • usedforglue - April 14, 2011 12:54 a.m.

    Honestly guys, what is with all the MK stuff this week. The Mortal Kombat games were never that good and they probably never will be that good. Isn't there something better to report on. No but seriously, I love you guys and the articles are still fun to read!
  • Yaro - April 14, 2011 12:57 a.m.

    Prepare yourself! We examine the original arkade hit that korrupted minds and led to the kreation of the ESRB. Fix'd
  • Rubberducky - April 14, 2011 1:16 a.m.

    Kan you guys do me a favor and do a "history of" on the Legend of Zelda? I haven't played it since probably the N64 days... PS I kept this post on topic by using the K on can. Clever eh, eh?? sigh
  • Zeokroe - April 14, 2011 1:56 a.m.

    @usedforglue: Dude, it's the week before the newest MK. I'm an MK fan to the end. I really enjoyed the old games. I thought they were very fun. The second MK I have on my PS3, and I've preordered/bought the newest one already. They aren't deep in move sets, but they do take strategy. I believe them to be good, but maybe that isn't saying much. I'm totally loving GR this week for Kombat week. This is great.
  • usedforglue - April 14, 2011 2:02 a.m.

    @Zeokroe: I'll have to admit that the new MK game actually looks pretty good. I also played the games as a kid and enjoyed them at the time. The series is just so easy to rip on. I don't make a very good troll! Here's to the new MK game! Make it Kount guys!
  • Nonstop17 - April 14, 2011 2:08 a.m.

    ahhh MK2 that was one f the first games i ever played...good times good times
  • Heyexclamationpoint - April 14, 2011 2:30 a.m.

    "Above: The Ultimate MK3 roster, which added cyber ninjas, a lady-Goro and the pitiful Stryker" Actually the cyber ninjas were already in the original MK3. Ultimate added the regular ninjas.
  • elchetos - April 14, 2011 2:33 a.m.

    This is the kind of article that keeps me coming back for more every day. I sucked at MK back in the day, but I'm really intrigued by the new one, maybe it will pull me back to the fighting games. I still remember my little 8 years old mind being blown the first time I saw sub zero's fatality, that'll be a moment that will be engraved in my twisted memory.
  • NinjaJamez - April 14, 2011 2:42 a.m.

    i would like to know why kano didnt appear on MKII, and why scorpion and johnny cage didnt appear on MK3... is there any plot point that clarifies those absences
  • AntistasMetroid - April 14, 2011 2:50 a.m.

    Yes! Keep the MK content flowing! This is all speaking directly to my nostalgia and i cant get enough. just pre-ordered my copy of the new one adn im gettin pumped!
  • xombiesarelove - April 14, 2011 2:54 a.m.

    I'm loving all the MK articles and can't wait to hear what GamesRadar has to say about the series. Plus what child of the 80's/90's doesn't remember that awesome MORTAL KOMBAT! commercial?
  • ThePigHostage - April 14, 2011 4:07 a.m.

    @NinjaJamez - Kano was supposed to be captured in MK2 (you can see him chained up alongside Sonya in one of the levels) - Johnny Cage was supposed to be dead in MK3 I don't know why Scorpion was originally left out of MK3.
  • XLGirthMan - April 14, 2011 4:59 a.m.

    Honestly I never got to play any MK games before. But I'm still psyched for the new one and have preordered it for the PS3 (KRATOS!!!). All this MK history stuff is making me so much more anxious!
  • bloodyshadow - April 14, 2011 5:21 a.m.

    Kombat Week has my pants moist and I'm very impressed with the research you guys are doing and the little trivia you're all spewing AND getting right. Amazing... ... even if most of the article's content is making fun of the series. :/ Beggers can't be choosers.
  • funkymonk - April 14, 2011 5:36 a.m.

    @ usedforglue YOU READ MY MIND... Please GR, stop with all this Mortal Kombat material. I love MK as much as the next person but damn. Maybe a Good Top 7 or a Music of the day? What happened to those?!
  • Spacem0nkey77 - April 14, 2011 6:04 a.m.

    My buddies and I finally agreed that Raiden actually says "Raging balls of hay"...I never heard "your mommas in LA" which is also pretty funny. "I smoke weed all day" was a close second to Raging balls of hay.
  • Romination - April 14, 2011 6:32 a.m.

    I'd actually hoped for a longer, more in-depth thing on MK II and III. With character bios and whatnot, that was actually really interesting.
  • Synchronatic - April 14, 2011 7:19 a.m.

    Fucking fantastic read. Loved every bit of it. I agree with Romination though, a more in depth article on MK II and III would kick ass.
  • JohnnyBlackburn - April 14, 2011 10:59 a.m.

    Kano- 'A fallen angle' Really???
  • CitizenWolfie - April 14, 2011 11:18 a.m.

    It's amazing how popular the series became konsidering it was a bit of a SF ripoff. I loved it as a kid though, even the krappy films and kartoon. There weren't many arkades where I lived but going to a mate's house and playing VS mode for hours was a bit part of my khildhood. I think on the day of release, it should be a National Mortal Kombat Day. The world over should kelebrate by replaking all Cs with a K and shouting gibberish while lunging wildly at eakh other. As you kan see, I'm getting the praktike in for the K thing already...

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